A love triangle and a deadly dog walk: Convicted killer says he got played by girlfriend — and now he wants Texas Gov. Abbott’s help

A decorated U.S. Special Forces medic who killed his girlfriend’s husband wants Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to intervene and shorten his six-decade prison sentence, saying that he deserves leniency because he helped put his girlfriend behind bars once he knew she had lied about being abused and “used” him in an elaborate murder-for-hire plot.

“I became her weapon,” Darrin Lopez, 51, exclusively told NBC’s “Dateline” in his first interview since being sentenced to 62 years in prison for murder. “I understand that.”

Darrin Lopez.Darrin Lopez.Courtesy Ashley Shaw

“The true criminal is in jail for life,” Lopez said from the Dallas County Jail before he was moved to a prison east of Waco. “I helped put her there.”

Lopez, 51, shot Jamie Faith, 49, while Faith was walking his dog on Oct. 9, 2020, outside his Dallas home with his wife, Jennifer Faith.  

Lopezwas convicted and sentenced in July. The previous year, in February 2022, Jennifer Faith pleaded guilty to using interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire, admitting to prosecutors that she falsely convinced Lopez that her husband was physically and sexually abusing her

In reality, Jamie Faith never hurt his wife and the allegations were fabricated, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Calvert of Texas’ Northern District told “Dateline.” But Jennifer Faith used fake email accounts and photos of previous injuries — as well as a picture of a bloody lip she got from a stock photography company — to convince Lopez otherwise, Calvert said.

Calvert called Faith’s lies, which included violent sexual assaults by multiple people, “some of the most sadistic things you can possibly dream up.” 

Jennifer Faith and Jamie Faith.Jennifer Faith and Jamie Faith.Attorney Juan Sanchez

High school sweethearts reconnect 

Jennifer Faith, a speech therapist, and her husband, an IT director with American Airlines, had been together for 15 years and had a teenage daughter when he was fatally shot. During her marriage, Jennifer Faith reconnected with Lopez, who she dated in high school. The pair had a seven-month “emotional affair,” Dallas County prosecutors said.

Jennifer Faith and Darrin Lopez at prom.Jennifer and Darrin at prom, 1990.Attorney Juan Sanchez

Lopez retired from the Army after six deployments to Iraq, said Andrew Cheramie, a supervisory special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who investigated the case. Lopez had earned a purple heart and a bronze star and suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, Cheramie told “Dateline.”

Lopez and his wife separated in 2018, and he’d become increasingly isolated while living on a large, rural property outside Nashville, Tenn., with two of his daughters during the pandemic, his lawyer, Juan Sanchez, said.

“So he’s sitting in this farm on his computer,” Sanchez told “Dateline.” “And he says, you know what, I’m going to try to reconnect with her. And he found her on LinkedIn and sent her an email. That’s how it all started.”

Tens of thousands of messages

After reconnecting in March 2020, Lopez and Jennifer Faith talked often, trading tens of thousands of messages and phone calls in the months that followed, said Eric Barnes, a Dallas detective who investigated the case. Jennifer Faith called Lopez her “soulmate” and they came up with a five-year plan to be together. 

Lopez said he had no intention of breaking up Jennifer Faith’s marriage. When she told him there was no intimacy between her and her husband, Lopez said, he pushed her to be honest with him.

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By April, Jennifer Faith told Lopez that her husband had discovered their relationship — and had begun abusing her. At one point, Lopez later told Calvert, she said her husband had sexually assaulted her and she’d awoken to him performing CPR on her, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by “Dateline.”

Email correspondence between Jennifer Faith and Lopez showed that he wanted to alert American Airlines to the alleged abuse and pushed her to go to the police. But Jennifer Faith refused, telling Lopez that she didn’t want her daughter to lose her father and feared doing so would only make the abuse worse, Calvert said.

“She also told me that she would say nothing’s happening” if he told authorities, Lopez told “Dateline.” “She would deny everything to the police.’ 

‘If I didn’t do something, she was going to die’

As the Faiths’ anniversary approached on Oct. 8, 2020, Lopez said he received text messages that appeared to be from Jamie Faith that threatened the sexual assault and possible drowning of Jennifer Faith.

So he drove 10 hours to Texas, convinced that “if I didn’t do something, she was going to die,” he told “Dateline.” “I made that commitment right there.”

Darrin Lopez while in the military.Darrin Lopez while in the military.Attorney Juan Sanchez

On Oct. 9, moments after the Faiths left their home to walk their dog, an armed Lopez approached Jamie Faith and squeezed the trigger nine times. Three bullets struck him in the head, Calvert said.

To make the killing look like a robbery, Lopez removed Jamie Faith’s wedding ring, punched Jennifer Faith and bound her hands, Lopez later told Calvert, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by “Dateline.”

Then Lopez fled in his pickup. Somewhere in Arkansas, he told Calvert, he tossed Jamie Faith’s ring out the window.

Pleading for help

In the killing’s aftermath, Jennifer Faith portrayed herself as a grieving widow and pleaded for help finding her husband’s killer.

 “My hope is that someday perhaps the person will realize the gravity of what they’ve done, what they’ve taken from myself and my daughter,” she told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth at the time.

Lopez was arrested the following January after authorities tracked his pickup — a black Nissan with a distinctive “T” sticker — to his Tennessee home. Although he claimed that Jennifer Faith had deceived him, the local prosecutor’s office said, “evidence shows Mr. Lopez took no logical steps to confirm the abuse or to otherwise secure Jennifer Faith’s safety.”

There were “other avenues Darrin could take besides driving across multiple states and murdering someone in cold blood,” Calvert said. “But that’s the option that he chose.”

Jennifer Faith was arrested in February 2021 as investigators began untangling the plot to kill Jamie Faith. She was charged with obstruction of justice after authorities discovered that she’d told Lopez to remove the “T” sticker from his truck, Calvert said. 

Seven months later, Jennifer Faith was charged with murder-for-hire.

Lopez’s lawyer, Juan Sanchez, said it took him six months to convince Lopez that Jennifer had fabricated the allegations. Once he came around, Lopez said, he was devastated.

“When I got arrested, I went to jail truly believing I saved Jennifer” and her daughter, he told “Dateline.” 

“That thought never registered in my mind that she could use me this way. I believe she loved me.”

Lopez apologized to the Faiths’ daughter and said he couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done. But he could help by working with prosecutors to “put her away,” he said.

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Cooperating with officials 

In October 2021, the month after Jennifer Faith was charged with murder-for-hire, Lopez spent two hours walking Calvert and other officials through the case. He told them about how they’d agreed to make the killing look like a robbery and how he’d come up with a code word — 575, the number of his Special Forces team — for her to use in text messages after she began claiming her husband was abusing her, according to the transcript.

Four months later, Jennifer Faith pleaded guilty. She was later sentenced to life in prison.

Lopez told “Dateline” his cooperation with prosecutors was instrumental.

“It was because of me that they were able to go to her and, ‘Say hey, Darrin’s going to testify against you,’” he said. But when Lopez went to trial in July, prosecutors in Dallas County allowed the jury to hear few of these details, he said.

“The jury did not know how much help I gave,” Lopez said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Texas’ Northern District declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment, nor did lawyers for Jennifer Faith.

In court, Lopez’s lawyer argued that his client believed Jennifer Faith was facing immediate harm when he fatally shot her husband — a use of self-defense that can be considered justified under Texas law.

But a jury convicted Lopez and sentenced him to 62 years in prison.

How the jury saw it

In an interview with NBC News, a juror in Lopez’s case recalled that it took little time for the jury to reach a verdict. The juror, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to be publicly associated with the case, said the group didn’t find the self-defense argument persuasive. 

“There were far too many other options,” he said. 

But the jury’s deliberations over how much time Lopez should serve took several hours, he said. Lopez faced five years to life in prison, and part of the group believed he should never step outside a cell again, the juror recalled.

For them, the juror said, the case was simple: “This very innocent person is dead because of your decision.” 

Jamie Faith.Jamie Faith.Courtesy Jason Snyder

But others, at least initially, believed Lopez should spend far fewer years behind bars, including one who thought he should serve the minimum sentence, the juror said. 

In the interview, the juror said he didn’t view Lopez as an ongoing danger and believed the convicted killer had been manipulated — though he faulted Lopez for not “asking bigger questions and pushing back more.”

The panel eventually decided on 62 years — a number the juror said he was comfortable with after reviewing text messages that seemed to contradict Lopez’s contention that he had no alternative but to fatally shoot Jamie Faith, he said.

The juror said Lopez’s cooperation with authorities was briefly mentioned in court but not described in detail.

Now, Lopez said, he hopes Abbott will consider that assistance, along with his self-defense claim, and show him leniency. 

Citing Abbott’s promise to pardon Daniel Perry, a U.S. Army sergeant convicted of killing a protester in Austin in 2020, Lopez said he wasn’t looking for a pardon, but for a reduction to his sentence.

Lopez’s lawyer, Juan Sanchez, said he has not filed a request for clemency. The lawyer handling Lopez’s appeal did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

Tim Stelloh

Tim Stelloh is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

Kimberly Flores Gaynor and Meade Jorgensencontributed.